Dr. Frank Jobe, Tommy John Surgery Pioneer, Dies at 88

Image: Dr. Frank Jobe, Tommy John Surgery Pioneer, Dies at 88

Friday, 07 Mar 2014 10:01 AM

By Clyde Hughes

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Pioneering sports surgeon Dr. Frank Jobe, who performed the first "Tommy John" surgery to prolong the careers of pitchers, died Thursday in Santa Monica, Calif. He was 88.

In 1974, Jobe transplanted an unneeded tendon from Tommy John's right wrist to repair an elbow ligament in the Montreal Expos pitcher's left arm. It was the first surgery of its kind, the New York Times reported. If he had not had the surgery, the elbow injury would have ended his career. However, John went on to pitch 14 more seasons after the surgery, retiring at 46. 

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The surgery has been duplicated thousands of times and is now a regular part of sports medicine, saving the careers of numerous athletes, most of them pitchers. Jobe worked as the team orthopedist for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1974.

ESPN reported a study last year found that of 124 active pitchers, about one-third of those in the majors needed Tommy John surgery at some point in their careers. 

"Baseball lost a great man and Tommy John lost a great friend," John said in a statement about Jobe's death. "There are a lot of pitchers in baseball who should celebrate his life and what he did for the game of baseball."

The Baseball Hall of Fame honored Jobe at a ceremony last summer after the Dodgers and Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully asked for the orthopedist to be recognized.

"I was deeply saddened to learn of the loss of Dr. Frank Jobe, a great gentleman whose work in baseball revolutionized sports medicine," Bud Selig, commissioner of Major League Baseball, said in a statement. "Since 1974, his groundbreaking Tommy John surgery revitalized countless careers, especially those of our pitchers. His wisdom elevated not only the Dodgers, the franchise he served proudly for a half century, but all of our clubs."

Jobe worked for the Dodgers for 50 years, beginning in 1964. He formed the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic with Dr. Robert Kerland in 1965, and the clinic is still a top stop for injured athletes around the country, according to ESPN.

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